Inside A Forensic Psychiatry Unit: The Ground Where Death Meets Life

How the unrelated murder of an inmate on another unit led to Sean’s transfer, his escape from forced medication, and eventually, his release.

This article by Sean Gunderson, written within an American context, has been published by Mad in America. It begins:

“We are quickly approaching the detention center (DC). I must brief you before we enter. As you will be embedded with me, it is imperative that you stay close to me. It could mean the difference between survival and perishing in the DC. I need you to understand that, in general, these mental health professionals are not here to help you.

I know, maybe you had some positive experiences with your psychiatrist or counselor outside the DC (in ‘The World’). However, there is an important difference here.


You see, the history of psychiatry is characterized by the psychiatrists being aware of the limits of what society can tolerate when it comes to their abuses of those in their custody. Out in The World, the narrative that mental health professionals are ‘here to help’ requires enough supporting evidence that society will continue to believe in it. Thus, your psychiatrist is incentivized to get you to believe that you are being helped, as you are the ideal proponent of psychiatric legitimacy (a happy customer is the best salesperson). Indeed, real help may even occur within this context.

However, in the DC, there is no need to actively construct the narrative that psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are really helping. The narrative associated with the not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) verdict has already accomplished this. That is, once found NGRI, the individual is sent to the DC under the assumption that they are being helped. So long as they stay within the limits of what society considers acceptable treatment for a forensic mental patient, psychiatrists can do as they please.

The intersection of the categories of ‘mentally ill’ and ‘criminal’ means that things psychiatrists could not do in The World are considered socially acceptable in the DC. Much of society would rather not even have to think about what goes on in the forensic psychiatric DC, and the narrative that these people are being ‘helped’ dominates any social conversation about it.

If you try to tell yourself and me that these professionals are ‘here to help’ I will send you off on your own to survive in the DC. You are not going to drag me down with you …”

You can read more from here.

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